The Realms of the Unreal & Henry Darger

When Henry Darger died in Chicago in 1972, a 15,000 page manuscript was found among the overflowing clutter in his cramped, one-room small apartment. He had spent most of his life working on the text and illustrations for his epic, "The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco- Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion". Often shortened to "The Realms of the Unreal".

After writing his saga Henry Darger illustrated it. The drawings are as complex as the title. Most of the characters are children, though Generals, soldiers, professors, dragons, and other mythical beasts do frequent the scene.

The good fight the evil in the shape of seven young girls called the Vivian Sisters, heroines of the story, who fight against the evil Glandelinians.

Darger's work contains many religious themes, albeit handled extremely idiosyncratically. In the Realms of the Unreal postulates a large planet around which Earth orbits as a moon and where most people are Christian (mostly Catholic). The majority of the story concerns the adventures of the daughters of Robert Vivian, seven sisters who are princesses of the Christian nation of Abbieannia and who assist a daring rebellion against the evil John Manley's regime of  child slaves imposed by the Glandelinians. Children take up arms in their own defense and are often slain in battle or viciously tortured to death by the Glandelinian overlords.

The elaborate mythology also includes a species called the "Blengigomeneans" (or Blengins for short), gigantic winged beings with curved horns who occasionally take human or part-human form, even disguising themselves as children. They are usually benevolent, but some Blengins are extremely suspicious of all humans, due to Glandelinian atrocities.

In the Realms of the Unreal includes The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, and extends over 15 immense, densely-typed volumes of 15,145 total pages. The text is accompanied by three bound volumes of several hundred illustrations, scroll-like watercolor paintings on paper, the work of six decades, derived from magazines and coloring books. In addition, Darger wrote an eight volume, 5,084-page autobiography, The History of my Life; a 10-year daily weather journal; assorted diaries; and a second work of fiction, provisionally titled Crazy House, of over 10,000 handwritten pages.

In The Realms of the Unreal, the "assassination of the child labor rebel Annie Aronburg... was the most shocking child murder ever caused by the Glandelinian Government," and was the cause of the war. Through their sufferings, valiant deeds and exemplary holiness, the Vivian Girls are hoped to be able to help bring about a triumph of  Christianity. Darger provided two endings to the story: In one, the Vivian Girls and Christianity are triumphant; in the other, they are defeated by the godless Glandelinians.

Darger's human figures were rendered largely by tracing, collage, or photo enlargement from popular magazines and children's books. (Much of the "trash" he collected was old magazines and newspapers, which he clipped for source material.)

His favorite figures, which he repeatedly traced throughout the work, were Coppertone Girl and Little Annie Roony.

His natural gift for composition and the brilliant use of color throughout the book are truly breathtaking. The images of daring escapes, mighty battles, and painful torture are reminiscent not only of epic films such as Birth of a Nation , but of events in Catholic history; the text makes it clear that the child victims are heroic martyrs.

One idiosyncratic feature of Darger's artwork is an apparent  transgenderism: Characters are often portrayed unclothed or partially clothed, and regardless of ostensible gender, many females exhibit male parts.

Darger's work has become one of the most celebrated examples of  outsider art. Outsider art, or art brut ("raw art" or "rough art")--a label created byJean Dubuffet--describes art created outside the boundaries of official culture, particularly works by the insane.

 

 

 

 

Darger's drawings have inspired contemporary artists working within different genres most obviously his work has an important influence on contemporary artist within the visual arts today.

Jenny Smith

3705 Oceanview Drive, Denton, TX, 76208